This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Polygamy and Violence Often Go Together

Thanks to my son, John Weeks, for the link to a very interesting article in the Economist this week linking the practice of polygamy to violence in various parts of the world. This is essentially an extension of the youth bulge issue, but it pertains to a situation in which polygamy takes a disproportionate share of women out of the marriage market, leaving many young adult men wondering what to do...
Wherever polygamy is widely practised (in South Sudan, perhaps 40% of marriages involve multiple wives) turmoil tends to follow. The 20 most fragile states in the world are all somewhat or very polygamous. Polygamous nations are more likely to invade their neighbours. The polygamous regions of Haiti and Indonesia are the most turbulent. One London School of Economics study found a strong link between plural marriage and civil war. How come?
Polygamy nearly always means rich men taking multiple wives. And if the top 10% of men marry four women each, then the bottom 30% cannot marry at all. This often leaves them not only sexually frustrated but also socially marginalised. In many traditional societies, a man is not considered an adult until he has found a wife and sired children. To get a wife, he must typically pay a “brideprice” to her father. When polygamy creates a shortage of brides, it massively inflates this brideprice. In South Sudan, it can be anything from 30 to 300 cattle, far more wealth than an ill-educated young man can plausibly accumulate by legal means.
In desperation, many single men resort to extreme measures to secure a mate. In South Sudan, they pick up guns and steal cattle from the tribe next door. Many people are killed in such raids; many bloody feuds spring from them. Young bachelors who cannot afford to marry also make easy recruits for rebel armies. If they fight, they can loot, and with loot, they can wed.
Polygamy has been practiced for millennia in various parts of the world and is, of course, legitimized in Islam, where the only proscription is that a man should not have more than four wives at any one time. The Economist refers to an article published last year in the journal International Security, authored by Valerie M. Hudson and Hilary Matfess. They point out that Saudi Arabia deals with the problem of polygamy potentially producing instability by limiting brideprice and arranging low-cost mass marriages so that young men with lower levels of income are not pressured into "extralegal" means of acquiring enough money to get married.

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